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Gov. Quinn moves to abolish controversial legislative scholarships

Gov. PQuinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:19AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday rewrote legislation to abolish the state’s century-old General Assembly scholarship program that has been beset by cronyism and scandal for decades.

The governor’s move will require a sign-off this fall by state lawmakers, who in the past have voted down efforts to get rid of the program that gives them the ability to hand out free college rides to anyone of their choosing.

“As I have repeatedly advocated in the past, college scholarships — paid for by Illinois taxpayers — should only go to those that have true financial need for them. I cannot in good conscience sign any legislation that continues to allow legislators to bestow this benefit on a select few,” Quinn wrote in an amendatory veto message to lawmakers.

The bill Quinn changed, which passed the General Assembly by veto-proof margins, would have barred lawmakers from doling out legislative scholarships to relatives and given them permission to turn over the selection process to the Illinois Student Assistance Commission if an individual lawmaker chose to.

On Tuesday, the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Sen. Kirk Dillard (D-Hinsdale), urged Quinn to do exactly what he did. After the governor’s move, the bill’s chief House sponsor followed suit.

“There’s a whole lot of constituent support for the notion that if the state doesn’t have money and we’re underfunding universities, then why are we requiring universities to pick up the tab on these things,” said Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley).

In order for Quinn’s change to take effect, both chambers of the Legislature would have to approve of his amendatory veto by a simple majority.

That could prove to be a tall order given that there have not historically been enough votes to abolish the program. A 2003 push, for example, fell five votes shy of passing the House, and similar efforts have failed to gain traction in the Senate.

“I have long championed ending the legislative scholarship program which has become rife with abuse and a financial drain on our higher education system. But my legislative efforts — most recently Senate Bill 1317 — have been blocked in the Senate. Perhaps with the governor’s intervention, the legislature will finally realize it is time for this program to end,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said in a prepared statement.

Quinn’s move comes after the Chicago Sun-Times first reported Monday that federal investigators are probing legislative scholarships awarded by former state Rep. Robert Molaro (D-Chicago).

Last April, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s office subpoenaed the State Board of Education for paperwork associated with tuition waivers worth more than $94,000 that Molaro granted to the four children of campaign donor and Oak Lawn real estate broker Phil Bruno.

In late July, the feds followed up that subpoena with another one, asking for information on all of the legislative scholarships Molaro handed out before leaving the General Assembly in 2008.

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